Waterspot: Falling Forward

I remember a nice story Surfer’s Journal founder Steve Pezman once did in Surfer Magazine. It was called “Feeling Fall,” and while that piece was penned more than 40 years ago, I still reflect on it when the 10th month hits and the air, fanned by offshore winds, turns brisk. Fall holds some of my favorite memories — close friends gathering in a meaner ocean as summer crowds leave and cooler water temperatures cause speculation concerning the coming winter.

This fall was not yet two weeks old when the best and biggest south swell of the year plowed into south-facing beaches like a bullet train from Sacramento.

Mostly it was the waves directly to our north and south that got the brunt, but we in North County enjoyed the tail end of things as we were reminded that we do live near an ocean and not a placid lake. Until then local surfers united to wonder, what south swells?

There is a downside of fall in the additional layers of rubber used as insulation against the shorter, cooler days. Scramble to the local surf shop for wetsuits, racier boards and maybe booties. While you’re at it, you might want to give that old crusty leash the tug test, since it has not been stretched to anything near its limits by an adult wave for months.

Surfers can tend to feel superior this time of year as most of our species reacts to this season by hoarding beer and chips for sporting events and a comfortable couch to hibernate on for the months ahead. Many of us, on the other hand, are swimming laps, running stairs and generally toughening up in preparation to face increasingly harsh elements. Not that it’s that harsh in Southern California with water and air temps rarely dipping below 60, but those obligatory northern travels can test even the toughest among us. For reasons unexplainable, many of us feel the call to northern climes this time of year.

It’s been a few years since I packed my van for Northern California and points beyond in the hopes of finding good, uncrowded surf. But to me Hawaii or Santa Barbara does not qualify as a real surf trip. That doesn’t happen until you pass that spoiled hippy-gone-techie outpost called Santa Cruz and head for surf breaks on nobody’s map, those places even hardcore locals don’t have a name for.

Oh wait; weren’t we discussing the fall season? Sorry, my mind migrates to distant aquatic dreams and rewards of taking that first cold slap across the face and feeling the needles of spray pelting like gravel when paddling over a set wave. The early swells have swept the sand off the reefs. The beach breaks are closed out and the reefs are breathing out threatening noises. Locals only on a morning when your exhale freezes even before it makes it past your lips, the friends you recognized by their muscular naked legs and arms now a little plumper and covered in black neoprene, paddling out frantically, getting hit hard and shaking off the cold. Fall is here, dear friends, and real surfers will rise to the occasion.

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